London's charging network expansion plans and electric car-sharing growth
19 May 2016
Source London is looking to ease the problem of electric vehicle charging in the capital city by expanding its network of charge points, while the company behind it is also launching an EV car-sharing scheme, writes Christofer Lloyd
Electric cars may be in their infancy, but in the past several public charging networks have been notorious for compatibility and unreliability issues.
This is set to change, however, according to Christophe Arnaud, managing director of BluePoint London, the subsidiary of parent firm Bollore that is managing the company's Source London charging network.
The company is in negotiations with "open-minded competitors" regarding enabling compatibility between charging systems. "It requires interoperability between our IT and billing systems," states Arnaud. "But we are moving forward and maybe - it's one of my targets this year - we will announce an agreement with another operator."
Charger reliability should also be on a much better footing than before, with Bollore taking ownership of charge points for eight years - providing greater incentive to maintain chargers than the shorter-term leases prevalent at the inception of London's charging network. "We provide unlimited maintenance up to the full replacement of the charge points, if required," Arnaud asserts.
"We have a team of roaming technicians in the city and they are making interventions in less than half an hour if it's a small issue. If it requires to change a charge point, we can do it in four hours," Arnaud continues.
While Source London charging points are accessible for free after a £5 subscription fee, these rates are set to rise from January 2017 "at the latest", according to Arnaud. "The idea is to introduce something like £1-£2 an hour, which is not a charging fee, but a parking and charge fee," with the London boroughs unable to charge anything extra. The £5 cost of registration is also set to rise, but Arnaud insists it will remain below £50.
Source London has also finalised agreements with 11 of the 33 London boroughs, with the aim of working with two-thirds "by the end of the year" and almost all of them in 2017. Unlike many other networks, Arnaud states that "everything is managed by the charge point". Drivers don't need a smartphone or an app to book a car in advance or to book a bay: "You swipe a card on the charge point - it recognises whether you are a BlueCity [car-sharing scheme - see below] member to rent a car.or if you're a Source London member and you want to park up your car."
The French connection
Aside from developing the London charger network, BluePoint is developing its own car-sharing scheme, called BlueCity, which follows the lead of the Parisian Autolib scheme - a one-way electric car rental set-up, similar in format to London's 'Boris Bikes' bicycle hire scheme, and operated by Bollore.
On average, Autolib users pay ?5-7 (£4-£5.50) per journey - with a typical trip lasting around 40 minutes - which, claims Arnaud, is "cheaper than any other means if you want to go in a car". Meanwhile, the system won't let any drivers take a car if its charge falls below 40%, with drivers depleting the battery to 20% being advised to find a charger.
Central to the appeal of BlueCity - and potentially making it much more viable for business users - is how users can collect a vehicle in one location and return it elsewhere, unlike some other car-sharing schemes, including ZipCar, where vehicles must be returned to the same spot.
"[With BlueCity] you can just take a car in a borough and drop it off in another borough, plug it into a charge point and you just pay for the rental period, and that covers energy, parking and everything," says spokeswoman Nathalie Falco.
The key to the success of BlueCity will be scale, states Arnaud, with more bays and more cars needed. Opened in April to "people we know" with a handful of cars and 100 bays where the cars could be parked and charged, Arnaud anticipates smooth expansion with 20 new cars ready to be introduced.
"The idea is before the summer to be around 50 cars and at the end of the year between 75 and maybe 100," he says. However, Arnaud hopes to grow the network to around 6000 charge points with 3000 cars available as soon as 2018 - although he acknowledges that need to work with separate boroughs means "if we can do that by 2020 it will be great".
The Source London network currently consists of around 1000 charge points, with approximately 500 expected to be compatible with the BlueCity car by the end of the year.
The dedicated BlueCity car
While other car-share schemes use standard road cars, BlueCity uses dedicated machines specifically intended to be shared. "We have designed our car for car-sharing, so it's not really a car you would like to buy," says Christophe Arnaud, managing director of BluePoint London.
"It has been designed to be robust, to be able to have up to 20 or 30 different persons driving the car a day. On average we have 10," Arnaud comments. Explaining how the car differs from other models, he states: "Seats need to be robust, everything needs to be robust; it's like the 'Boris Bikes' [London's bicycle hire scheme]. You don't really want to buy a Boris Bike - that's the idea."
Londoners don't care about cycling on a Boris Bike, states the BluePoint boss: "What they want is getting from point A to B because they have a meeting, they want to meet a friend." Arnaud asserts that these people don't care about driving a supercar: "They want something that can bring them efficiently - at low cost - to the point they want."
While car fans may not be keen to get behind the wheel of a BlueCity car, Arnaud sees ease of use as being one of the key benefits: "It's easy to rent if you have stations available and because you know that upon your arrival you will not lose any time to park."
Unlike most other models, the BlueCity car is not intended to be charged using rapid chargers, with slower 3kW and 7kW chargers available in the Source London network. "We know, because we're operating almost 4000 cars in Paris and other cities, that you don't need to charge our car-share car fast," says Arnaud.
"With 3kW you need eight hours to charge it full. But on average we are on 60% all the time [in Paris]. It's almost impossible to be empty."